by Syad Zahoor Shah Hashmi
Translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch
It was a summer day. The sun was up in the sky. Early in the morning he left for the sea and sat on the shore. There was still a touch of coldness of the last night left in the sands. He cast a look at the tides generated by the wind that blew over the othernight.
The water was shallow and under the mud flat sea insects had dug their burrows. And if someone unmindfully stepped on the mud flat, he would sink knee-deep beneath the ground. Some sixty yards from the sea there stood a few trees, some date palms and a big neem tree. In the morning sun it would cast its shadow as far as to the sea-brink. But as the day began to unfold the friendship between its shadow and the sea would start to fade.
He came and sat by the very shadow. Later when he looked around he found the shadow had long left him. Beyond the neem tree there was a pyramid of sands. From one angle its top looked like the peak of a volcano. Like a dyke, it enclosed some date palms in its depth. Once a beautiful garden, now it lay in utter ruins. There was even no trace of the fence left there. It had become a sort of hideout from the surrounding world.
On the left, a narrow trail passed through the sand. As people continuously treaded on the sand, some of the grains attained cohesiveness and the others flew drifted in the wind. Thus it took the shape of a trail which appeared like the parting of a woman’s golden hair. On the left side of that trail there was a well where people would come to fill their empty pitchers and pots.
All of a sudden a whisper seized his attention. He lifted his eyes up and caught sight of a blind man emerging from the right side of the pyramid. He was led by a girl who held one end of his walking stick. He shifted his concentration to the blind man rather than to the girl. The girl led the blind man to the sea and an hour later they were back on their way home.
He too got up and made his way home behind them. Midway through he exchanged greetings with the duo. At last he was out of the sands. He found it quite difficult to move forward because the trail was littered with grains of sands.
When he walked past the well, his heart skipped a beat. It was the second old stone-walled well located at the farthest end or you can say at the beginning of the sands. He recalled something but soon jerked his head to cast that old memory off his mind but it refused to budge. He felt burning sensation in his head and eyes. He touched his body to determine if he had fever. He was not sick at all. He quickened his steps so that he could reach his destination at the earliest. Suddenly, he whispered to himself:
“It is nice that you go home but nobody lives there. You will be all alone there as well.”
He was right. Nobody lived at his house save himself. He had a good friend but he spent the whole day working outside. At night he would come and they talked together but he too couldn’t give him company for a longer time because he had to look after his family. Again he said to himself: “Loneliness is beautiful but only when one needs it. Likewise it is nice to have someone’s company when one grows sick of loneliness. Today I feel as if I’ve grown sick of my loneliness. I think I should feel such weariness only after the sunset but today it has happened otherwise. My mind has been stormed in the morning.”
He kept moving ahead, wondering. Midway through, an acquaintance ran into him and greeted him. He couldn’t recognise him. He moved fast as if someone had been waiting him for quite some time and any sort of delay would lead to a huge loss.
He slowed his pace and even halted for a while but soon resumed to move forward with quick steps. He was some hundred steps away from his house when his eyes caught someone standing at the corner of the boundary wall that enclosed his house. He bowed his head and began to move with rather slow steps. As he drew nearer, he raised his head and found a woman was looking for something by the wall. He recognised her. Every day she would walk past that way to fetch water. He thought she might have lost her nose pin or ring. He asked her:
“What are you looking for?”
“No, a coin.”
“I’ve lost it.”
He also began to look for it. A moment later he raised his head up and found instead of searching for her lost coin she was gazing at him. He ran his hand into his pocket but couldn’t found any coin there. He turned to her: “I’ve no coin on me. Wait I’ll get you one from my house.”
He opened the gate and she followed her in. He searched his coat pocket. She said: “Is there any water at your house?”
“What do you mean by water?”
“I mean drinking water.”
“Yes, there is.”
He picked up the glass to fetch her water, but she took it from his hand and said: “I’ll get it myself.”
She filled the glass, came back, stood right before him and said: “Please drink.”
“I haven’t taken any fatty food in the morning. So, I do not have the urge to drink water.”
“It is summer. And in summer days it feels refreshing to drink water. By the way what did you take in the morning?”
“A cup of tea.”
“Alright. I’ll bring you some eggs.”
He was about to drink water when she said: “Don’t stand and drink.”
He sat on the edge of the cot and said, “But you are standing yourself.”
“I’ll sit down.”
“May I know your name?”
“Actually my name is Mahatoon but out of affection my mother used to call me Mahal.”
“Are you married?”
“I’ve three children but it has been the fifth year since my husband went on a journey.”
“Is he angry with you?”
“No he is not. But once left he never turned back. Occasionally he sends us money but…”
“You didn’t ask me my name.”
“I know you since the day you came to live in our neighbourhood. I also noticed your friend who visited you and you kept talking to each other till the midnight. After midnight, you would go out. I wondered where you went at those late hours of the night and when you would return home.”
“But I think you don’t have to do anything with my routines.”
“One night I kept waiting for you and saw you come back at dawn.”
“So, you have been keeping a watch over me!”
“Do you enjoy being alone?”
“What do you think?”
After a brief silent she said: “You are not alone anymore.”
“Yes not at least at this very moment.”
One and half hour later she got up to leave. He said: “You didn’t even drink water.”
“You drank and I got my thirst slaked.”
She was about to strolled out of the door when he turned to her:
“But you didn’t take your coin.”
“The one I said to give you in recompense.”
“Oh you mean that lost coin?”
“I got it.”
She scurried forward and at the door she turned back and said: “I’ll bring you some eggs at sunset.”
After she left he was amazed. He began to ponder and whispered to himself: “She found the coin? When? Where? In this house?”
A while later something struck to his mind and he smiled and spoke loudly: “Hmm! The lost coin!”
Syad Zahoor Shah Hashmi (1926-78) is known as the pioneer of modern Balochi literature. He was simultaneously a poet, fiction writer, critic, linguist and a lexicographer par excellence. Though he left undeniable marks on various genres of Balochi literature, poetry remained his mainstay. With his enormous imagination and profound insight he laid the foundation of a new school of Balochi poetry especially Balochi ghazal which mainly emphasises on the purity of language and simplicity of poetic thoughts. This school of poetry subsequently attracted a wide range of poets to its fold. He also authored the first ever Balochi novel ‘Nazuk’ and compiled the first comprehensive Balochi-to-Balochi dictionary containing over twenty thousand words and hundreds of pictorial illustrations.
Fazal Baloch is a Balochi writer and translator. He has translated several Balochi poems and short stories into English. His translations have been featured in Pakistani Literature published by Pakistan Academy of Letters in 2017 and Silence Between the Notes — the first ever anthology of Partition Poetry published by Dhauli Books India in 2018. His upcoming works of translation include Why Does the Moon Look So Beautiful? (Selected Balochi Short Stories by Naguman) and God and the Blind Man (Selected Balochi Short Stories by Minir Ahmed Badini).